Please note – possible spoilers in this first review.
“The Good Place: Season Two” (2017-2018, Shout Factory) Hard-living but recently deceased Kristen Bell and her equally dead friend, ethics professor William Jackson Harper, find that their home in the afterlife, which they believe is “The Good Place,” is actually the “Bad Place,” a deceit manufactured by the person they trust the most – efficient but anxious architect Ted Danson. Second season of this very fine NBC series from Michael Schur (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) boasts excellent performances from all involved, including Manny Jacinto and D’Arcy Carden as a hapless fellow soul and blissful guide Janet, respectively, and guest turns by Jason Mantzoukas and Maya Rudolph, and scripting that makes questions of philosophy and moral debate not only intriguing but very funny (the trolley problem is explored in thorough and disgusting detail). Shout’s two-disc set includes commentary by Schur, Danson and exec producer Drew Goddard, as well as extended episodes and gag/visual effects reels.
“Hotel Salvation” (2016, Film Movement) Eastern modalities on themes of death and responsibility, as viewed from the perspective of an overworked Indian accountant (Adil Hussain), who reluctantly accompanies his father (Lali Behl) to the holy city of Varanasi, where he expects to die and achieve mukti, or spiritual liberation. That the trip is a far more complicated and rewarding experience for both men is due to first-time writer/director Shubhashish Bhutani, who sidesteps the usual faux-inspiring tropes found in stories about aging parents and children in favor of more subtle emotions and surprising humor. The cast is uniformly stellar, especially veteran stage actor Behl and Anil K. Rastogi as the crotchety owner of the titular destination.
“A Woman’s Devotion” (1956, Kino Lorber) Watchable low-budget thriller thanks to its director, “Casablanca” star Paul Henreid, who helmed several modest but enjoyable crime pictures, and an audacious finale which leaves its central question – did shell-shocked vet Ralph Meeker kill two women while on honeymoon with new bride Janice Rule? – in ambiguous territory. The path to that non-answer strikes some pulpy notes with a blackmail subplot involving two world-class creeps, which might be a positive, depending on your tastes, but Meeker (one year after “Kiss Me Deadly“) and Rule, then a real-life couple, and Henreid as a police captain, are all good, and there’s sparkling Trucolor photography of Acapulco. Kino’s Blu-ray is a new HD master.
“Southwest of Salem: The Story of the San Antonio Four” (2016, Filmrise) As with the West Memphis Three, this doc concerns a jaw-dropping miscarriage of justice hinged on garbage science and religious intolerance that sent small-town teenagers to jail for nearly two decades. Here, four gay Texas girls are convicted of sexually assaulting two children; director Deborah S. Esquenazi uses court transcripts, and interviews with the defendants to highlight infuriating prejudicial lawyering – which tried to link the women’s sexuality to Satanism – as well as the efforts of the Innocence Project to free them after 15 years behind bars. Given the current political climate, another picture designed to stoke outrage might not be high on anyone’s watchlist, but “Salem” is potent, timely and well made.
“Sleeping Dogs” (1977, Arrow Academy) Having fled his home in the wake of his wife’s affair, New Zealander Sam Neill‘s hermetic existence is again disrupted when he’s accused of supporting guerillas fighting government forces (with support from the U.S. military, as embodied by the great Warren Oates) over by an energy crisis. Important as a historical document – the success of this Kiwi-made feature helped to launch the country’s film commission, as well as the careers of Neill and director Roger Donaldson – but also as an eerily prescient vision of civil unrest fomented by government-fueled malfeasance and brutality. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes informative commentary by Donaldson, Neill and co-star/writer Ian Mune, as well as making-of docs from 1977 and 2004.
“Windjammer: The Voyage of the Christian Radich” (1958, Flicker Alley) Travelogue-style documentary detailing the titular full-rigged sailing ship‘s journey from Oslo, Norway to Portugal, the Caribbean, and the American East Coast, with the crew of impossibly blond cadets enjoying experiences both positive (New York city jazz clubs, chaste encounters with girls in Madeira and Curacao) and petrifying (a powerful storm off the coast of Trinidad). American-made documentary was a source of considerable pride for first-generation Norwegians like my father-in-law, who saw “Windjammer” during its original New York run; it’s also a stellar showcase for the Cinemiracle widescreen process, which was intended to compete with Cinerama but proved too unwieldy (the camera weighs 600 pounds) to make more than just this one film. Flicker Alley’s Bly-ray is a newly restored presentation with documentaries detailing its production (among the cadets interviewed is pop/soundtrack composer and crate digger favorite Sven Libaek) and reconstruction, as well as vintage promotional material and a repro of the original theatrical program.